Uncovering the Past in ‘The Flat’

Guest Blog: Israeli Arnon’s Goldfinger’s compelling documentary “The Flat” reminds us that our relatives may well be saving treasures for us, if only we ask

Most people can identify with the topic of family secrets. For proof, just look at the success that Israeli Arnon’s Goldfinger’s compelling documentary, “The Flat,” has had this past year, not just in Israel but in Germany, as well.

Motivated by the death of his German-born grandmother, Goldfinger filmed the dismantling of her apartment in Israel. As drawers are emptied, amazing letters are found stashed that revealed renewed relationships between his grandparents and friends left in Germany.

Needless to say, the curious Goldfinger is fascinated with the draw that Germany still had for his grandparents and the relationships they kept with families still there.

And the intrigue is heightened when they find a hidden coin with an odd configuration: a swastika on one side — and the star of David on the other. Answers lead back to a secret trip Goldfinger’s grandfather made in 1934 to Israel – then Palestine — with a Nazi official, and the relationship the two men maintained even after the war.

In the film, Goldfinger wonders why his mother had never asked questions of her own mother. The most revealing comment is made when his mother defends herself by saying that it’s up to “the third generation to ask questions.”

IFC has just put this documentary into limited release in this country, clearly expecting that a broader audience will identify with a house-cleaning that uncovers the past. Hopefully, “The Flat” will inspire moviegoers to dig into their own relatives’ past before it’s too late.

Not everyone will make an important film like this, but oral histories among families are also very important. I cried watching “The Flat” because even as a documentarian I did not ask all those questions of my survivor mother before she died.